There was a season of my life when I felt I was majoring in Grief. It was a little premature and lacking perspective, but it was truth I felt. Through my twenties, I had been to as many visitations and funerals as my age, and then I lost count. The positive thing is that my parents and I had community and family connections all around us. My parents were community builders, and instilled in me the value of community. They were involved in their families, were connected to their farming and church communities, and loved people in general.
Wonderful role models.
But due to the large web of relationships, the likelihood of loss was greater. The odds were not in our favor. Farming accidents, cancer, car crashes, illness, old age, and more. I saw beautiful memorials, heard touching eulogies, and learned to hold a Kleenex.
When I was 10 years old, my paternal grandpa died from lung cancer. He was a leisure pipe smoker. I saw him in bib jean overalls on the farm, a button up flannel for card playing, or his Sunday best. He cleaned up good. My grandparents were in their mid 60s when I was born, so I only remember them silver. I saw him everyday I wasn’t in school, usually because he helped my dad farm. We would run out to him at about coffee time, because Grandma would pack enough cookies with his thermos for each of my siblings and me too. He would even let us dip our cookies in his coffee. He died in August of 1994. I remember I was reading the book Matilda in his hospital room earlier in the day, then more family came and sang hymns with him that evening. His voice was loud and clear despite the cancer that was taking over his body. That night he died. For his funeral my grandpa’s children and grandchildren all sang a couple hymns. It wasn’t the first funeral I had attended, but it’s the first I remember with much clarity over 20 years later.
Eight, I said eight, months later my dad was killed in a car accident. Wait, what?! Yes. While my grandmother and parents were still trying to settle into the new normal after Grandpa’s passing, my dad was suddenly gone. Gone. With Grandpa there had been goodbyes, a slow realization that his time was coming. My dad on the other hand was a successful farmer and marketing consultant for farmers, just 41 years old. A devoted family man and Christian. A servant of God – doing His work. Raising 4 young children, ages 6-14. No one saw it coming and no one believed it.
Most days I remember my dad and grandpa with an ache or fondness, but some days…my throat clenches, and tears threaten – all the way to pour. Today someone posted a video of their grandpa singing at church. It would have been his birthday, but he died over 10 years ago. The man was a dear friend of my grandpa, and is a part of many of my happy childhood memories. He was in church choir with my grandpa and dad. They were singing farmers, who I remember with fondness, their clear and beautiful voices filled the vaulted church ceilings on Sunday mornings. Hearing this man’s voice recorded, singing“How Great Thou Art” from the church balcony, caused my throat to clench and tears to swell. The feeling of lost loved ones overwhelmed me. I mourned all over again for these three men in my life, along with many others. I thought of my sleeping children tucked into their beds, not knowing their grandfather. My husband not knowing the first man, my dad, that I loved. Some days it would be easy to be angry, but I take these surprise mourning sessions, and I use them. Sometimes I use them as a release, and I just let myself cry. Not a pity party, but I allow myself those feelings and then I let them out in a productive, teary way. Sometimes I use the surprise mourning to be grateful for those people presently have in my life. Sometimes I use the surprise moment to be grateful for the lives they led and now miss. And other times I share a memory or fun fact about my dad with my husband or kids, or anyone who will listen really. It is my gift to share my dad’s story. It’s my pleasure to describe the perfect OOOs my grandpa puffed from his pipe. It is my blessing to pass on the stories of a church choir that grew community.
Sometimes grief surprises me, and you. Rather than fight it, I let it be a part of my story, and a continuation of theirs. Because loss is evidence of a relationship, and I like to remember that connections remain, within grief.